Darlene Frank and other SF/Peninsula writers, April 22 @ Florey’s Books, Pacifica

April 13, 2012


On Sunday, April 22, Pacifica writer Darlene Frank and other authors in Fault Zone: Stepping Up to the Edge, will have a book reading and signing at Florey’s Book Co. Come have a glass of wine and hear writing by:

Martha Clark Scala
Cheryl Levinson
David Hirzel
Diane Lee Moomey
Gary Turchin
James Hanna

Fault Zone: Stepping Up to the Edge, was edited by Lisa Meltzer Penn, and is available at Florey’s Books, 2120 Palmetto Ave., Pacifica.

On Sunday the 22nd, Darlene Frank will be reading from her story about a Mennonite teenager seeking independence and rebelling against her parents. Here, take a look at Darlene’s piece in the first volume of the Fault Zone anthology, Words from the Edge. This is “Attending to Love.”

When my grandfather couldn’t take care of my grandmother on his own anymore, and senility drove her to the nursing home, he moved into the Souderton Mennonite Home to stay with her until the end. I stayed away. I knew she was fading fast but I hadn’t wanted to see her. I didn’t know how to react to this indecent onslaught of age. It was easier to avoid her.

In her final months at the home, she bit, scratched, kicked and hollered. She didn’t remember who my grandfather was; she yelled at the two young daughters she imagined were in her room, she talked to them and to him like they were children. He took the abuse, his love never faltering, just pouring it out on her, and on everyone else at the home, too. They all loved him there; the staff had never seen anyone like him, they said, and after she died he stayed on, helping the nurses take care of the ones who needed it. He fed them, walked them, read and talked to them. The residents said he had been sent there to cheer them up.

He lived at the home for ten years, never ailing for long himself, still taking his morning jog in his eighties, still making clocks and footstools and picture frames in the woodshop, cutting his hand on the saw only twice. He memorized poetry and scripture into his nineties to keep his mind sharp.

I saw my grandfather for the last time at a Sunday dinner at my parents’ house on one of my rare visits to Pennsylvania. I didn’t travel often from California—using distance and expense as an excuse—though I knew he felt my absence. He and my grandmother had raised me for most of my first three years, from the time my mother died until Dad remarried. I was a special grandchild to them.

I had never spent much time alone with my grandfather except as a child on our walks through the lumber mill and rides to the grocery store in his Pontiac and trips to the henhouse to feed his chickens. I didn’t spend time alone with him that Sunday, either. We sat in my parents’ living room with everyone else, with the football game on TV and him sitting there in the blue armchair gentle and sleepy and kind, happy just to be with his family.

At the end of the afternoon when he went to his car, I followed him outside to say goodbye. I did want to do that much for him; I sensed this was the last time I’d see him, given his age, and my heart was already hurting. Though Dad and my brothers were standing there, too, as he got in the car, this felt like a private moment, just him and me like it used to be when I was a child. I watched him. His eyes were so small behind the thick lenses he’d worn since the cataract operations. He looked so short and shriveled behind the steering wheel of the same gray Pontiac I’d ridden in as a child, so lonely driving off in that empty car where Momma, as he called my grandmother, sat beside him for years in her black coat and bonnet. I watched him drive away, wearing his thick glasses and looking too old to be alive, let alone drive.

I went back to my home three thousand miles away, haunted by the image of this old man driving off by himself.

In his last year at the home he met Lizzie Heckler, a resident in a wheelchair who looked, I thought, like my grandmother. She was pretty and sweet at seventy-eight, and had never been married. They fell in love. Mom was scandalized. “Grandpop has a girlfriend at the home,” she wrote. “People say they kiss. It’s sickening.”

When I finally met Lizzie a year or two after my grandfather’s death, on a visit to other relatives at the home, I expected to find a depressed old woman, disheartened by loss. But her joy was unmistakable and her eyes full of warm light. “I’m so happy I was given the time I had with him,” she said. I could see she was still in love with this extraordinary man.

Two years after that Sunday dinner at my parents’, he had a mild stroke, from which he quickly recovered. By then I’d heard about the importance of not letting your loved ones die without telling them how much they mattered to you. A friend of mine had recently suffered months of verbal abuse taking care of her senile mother before she died, and she’d come out of it having learned, she said, that it wasn’t worth waiting until they were nearly dead to tell people you loved them. I’d come to realize how much these grandparents had given me in the critical first three years of my life, that it was they who’d encouraged my appreciation for books and my curiosity about the natural world. It was their house that had offered so much beauty in my formative years, as they surrounded me with unwavering affection. I wanted to tell my grandfather that I loved him.

I had never said this to anyone in my family. I don’t think I’d said it to anyone by then except a few men, and I wondered if I would be able to say the words to him. I may even have practiced. It seemed if I didn’t do it, I would lose something large and irretrievable and would never forgive myself. Not to do it seemed cowardice. So I called him up at the home and said it. I told him how much I appreciated him for those early years, what wonderful memories I had of the two of them. “I love you too,” he said. It was one of the few humbling acts I have done in my life to honor my past.

That year, on the Christmas card he sent, he wrote in his curly handwriting so old and kind, “We missed you terribly when you were gone.” Only then did I consider what it had cost them to let me go when I was three. How they had treasured and nurtured me in those first few years, how devoted they’d been to me. And how torn they must have felt when I went to live with Dad and his new wife, who wedged herself firmly between them and me. I felt sorry that life had been arranged to hurt them in this way, though there was nothing anyone could have done about it. I missed them too when I left, I’m sure, though I don’t remember it. What I now knew, finally, was how much of him and my grandmother I had missed by not paying attention. By not attending to love.

He died quietly at the home a few months after we talked, at the age of ninety-five. He was pushing Lizzie in her wheelchair back to her room after a church service. “I feel tired,” he said. “I need to sit down for a moment.” It was his last.

Florey’s Book Co. 2120 Palmetto Ave., Pacifica
Sun. April 22, 2 p.m.
Fault Zone anthology, San Francisco and Peninsula Writers, a branch of the California Writers Club


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